Henri Cartier-Bresson talked about the “defining moment” in photography; that split-second when you capture an image that will never be forgotten. In life there are defining moments too. Depending on what you are into it could be the first time you saw the ballet Swan Lake, or your first pair of Manolo Blahniks, or possibly the birth of your first child.
In journalism, rather like photography, you have to grab those moments when they come up, because they do not happen often. On Thursday I was having lunch with my friend Noch at a local restaurant called Jones the Grocer. A Sheikh walked in. We knew he was someone very important because the whole place ground to a halt and one person even kissed him on the head (a mark of great respect here because it means you elevate the person to the level of your parents).
Noch and I thought we recognised him but decided to check with two Emirati women sitting next to us. “It is Sheikh Mohammed,” they told us. “The Crown Prince.”
This is the second most powerful man in the UAE, probably one of the richest men in the world and, most crucially, the owner of my newspaper. I immediately called Rupert. “Go and ask him for an interview,” he said.
Now I were the owner of a newspaper, that is exactly how I would want my employees to behave. But this is the UAE I thought to myself. Maybe he won’t appreciate being disturbed. But my deep-rooted journalistic instinct took over. I pulled out my business cards, found a pristine one (one that hadn’t been drawn on by the children), and marched over.
“Your Highness,” I began, with a little curtsey which I had perfected for Prince Andrew only weeks before, “I work for your newspaper. My name is Helena Frith Powell.”
He stood up to greet me and I handed him my card.
“I just wanted to say that if you ever wanted to give an interview I would really love to interview you.”
He smiled and nodded.
“Thank you, it was lovely to meet you. Enjoy your lunch,” I added and walked back to Noch and my fish and chips.
I am not sure he will ever let me near him again, but it was a pretty defining moment for me. Here is a very bad picture I managed to take once back in my seat…..he’s the one standing up.
Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2009